Games people play

Pandora Melly meets a man who sure plays a mean pinball
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Michael Heath, 62, cartoonist

When I'm feeling particularly flat, or faded or drunk, I go to the amusement arcade in Old Compton Street and play pinball. You can take out all your frustrations - Pow! The angrier you are, the better you play.

There aren't many pinball machines left now; it's a dying art. I started playing on the West Pier at Brighton, but in those days, pinball was less complicated. You just sent a ball up and it went donk-donk-donk and hit things and with luck you got some sort of score. Or you'd win 20 cigarettes, or a watch that blew up after three minutes, or fell off, or turned your wrist green.

Nowadays, the machines are enormously technical, and you need a score of 25 billion just to get a free game. They also talk to you, and if you're lonely you can talk back. When you're not doing too well, you'll hear: "Uh-oh!" or "Bad luck, Buddie!" If you get a multi-ball - which is too exciting for words - the machine might say: "OK wise guy, let's go ... Boom!!!" And as the balls go down the wrong hole, you get "Uh-oh, dummy!"

The reason I like pinball is because it's pooh-poohed by everybody and is considered down-market. In fact, you have to play with enormous skill. You mustn't move the table, or a sign comes up that says "Tilt", which means you lose the next two balls and have to start again. You must be quite fit to play; if you're under the weather or have flu, you'll soon find out because your reactions will be too slow.

It's quite a balletic game: the old knees go up in the air, and you use plenty of hip action. This could be quite dodgy in Old Compton Street, but fruitcakes don't play pinball.

`Pinball Wizard' recorded by Elton John, first entered the UK charts on 20 March 1976. It remained there for seven weeks, reaching a highest place at number seven.

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